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The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards (Part Six) – The Best Promotions of 2020

January 8, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
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Welcome back to Part Six of the 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards of 2020! The Year-End Awards have been out for a couple of years but they’re back, and here’s how they work. For the next couple of weeks, we will present our top choices for a particular topic relating to wrestling in 2020. All the writers here on 411 will have the ability to give us their Top 5 on said topic and the end, based on where all of the votes rank on people’s list, we will create an overall Top 5 list. It looks a little like this…

1st – 5
2nd – 4
3rd – 3
4th – 2
5th – 1

Once everyone’s had their say, we will tally the scores and get our overall top 5. Tonight we’re looking at the Best Promotion of the year. Let’s get right to it…

Rob Stewart

5. MLW
3. AEW
2. Impact

1. WWE – I know, I know. I am unapologetically a WWE fan, especially when that promotion includes NXT, which—demo be damned—is still my favorite wrestling on the planet. Raw and Smackdown are what they are, but NXT and the PPV shows were generally pretty great this year (even with NXT having a bit of a blip mid-year). I enjoy Impact’s Women’s Division (and the general whackiness of some of their stuff) and AEW’s tag team scene, but for me? Yeah, I still like WWE the most. Especially in an aberrant year for NJPW.

Jeffrey Harris

5. MLW
4. Stardom
3. ROH
2. AEW

1. NJPW – To put it as mildly as I can, this year has been humbling to say the least, especially for pro wrestling. Fans have had to adjust watching pro wrestling programming with virtually no fans in attendance or no fans at all. And to be frank, watching wrestling without fans is …well, it’s tough. Wrestling loses a lot without the live fan component. Even watching WWE with the ThunderDome gimmick is somewhat weird and awkward. Jon Moxley’s comparison to the TV viewing in Fahrenheit 451 is apt.

I think there are a lot of valid debates and discussions that can be had about continuing the wrestling business during the pandemic. I totally get that. I’m also not going to condemn promotions that did continue putting on shows, while there are definitely criticisms that can be levied on mistakes that were made along the way. That said, NJPW arguably handled the situation better than others. New Japan went completely dark and on hiatus for months. NJPW didn’t hold empty arena shows. Instead, the company waited until it was safe to have fans back in the arenas, at least for the Japanese events.

And really, NJPW has been my most-watched promotion this year, even with the hiatus. Watching a promotion that’s able to have a sizable audience really does make that much of a difference. And while there are restrictions on the crowd sizes, fans not being able to yell, seeing the NJPW with fans reacting and getting to enjoy the product in such a humbling year has really made all the difference for me.

Additionally, NJPW rallied and has still put out some fantastic events this year between the Summer Struggle in Jingu, the G1 Climax tournament, and the World Tag League and Best of the Super Juniors tournaments. Despite all the setbacks, NJPW was still able to put all those tournaments together, with a pandemic that has no end in sight, they did it with flying colors.

Steve Cook

5. Ring of Honor
4. Impact Wrestling
3. New Japan Pro Wrestling
2. World Wrestling Entertainment

1. All Elite Wrestling – You have to go with people that ran shows, right? Whether it was the right move for AEW & WWE to go full steam ahead and keep producing content from television from a moral perspective, they had to do it for their bottom line. New Japan got back in the swing of things eventually, as did Impact & ROH. A lot of things go into this voting for some people, for me it’s simply which promotion entertained me most. In 2020, AEW had the best batting average with me, so they get the nod.

Len Archibald

5. Impact
4. NWA
3. New Japan
2. WWE (only because of their NXT brands)

1. AEW – Honestly with the financial hardship that struck everyone from the pandemic, the fact that most of these promotions still have the cash flow to be still even around and kicking it is sort of a minor miracle. This is one of the deciding factors into why I chose AEW as promotion of the year – but the most important is this: AEW is FUN. This is a professional wrestling promotion that knows it is a professional wrestling promotion, presents itself as a professional wrestling promotion and most of all is NOT ashamed to be a professional wrestling promotion. That is great and all, but what do you do when you are a major pro wrestling brand in your second year and are hit with a pandemic and all the confusion that madness brought with it? AEW had the resources and was ready to act. This was not a “TNA” situation where fans waited with baited breath at how Dixie Carter would seriously screw up her wrestling company (someday that will be a tremendous movie or Netflix miniseries) – no, AEW had a plan with how they would shoot shows, how they would handle live gates and how they would treat their general business affairs. And you know what we have NOT heard about? AEW’s business. They are a well-oiled machine.

AEW caters to the fan that really doesn’t give a shit if someone makes fun of their wrestling t-shirts or does the whole “you know it’s fake, right?” schtick. We are seeing the future of professional wrestling in the hands of Jon Moxley, Kenny Omega, Cody, FTR, The Young Bucks, Hangman Page, Darby Allin, Orange Cassidy and friends. AEW has not put on one truly bad show, whether it’s been Dynamite, their pay per view offerings – even Dark has been way better more than not with all its crazy debuts. In 2020, as a wrestling fan I admit I prefer NXT as the better show, but especially THIS year, no promotion took me to my wrestling happy place more than AEW – and after the Brodie Lee Dynamite Tribute show that ended 2020, AEW solidified themselves as a wrestling promotion that is more than just in-ring escapism. AEW now stands for something more than just a wrestling promotion. There is a belief and a philosophy between fans and talent that boasts a kind of excellence that you don’t find on 3rdquarter conference calls. In other words, Tony Khan and The Elite are the most serious threats the McMahon family has had in decades, because while most fans on one side concentrate on the frustration from WWE booking and specifically Vince McMahon, fans from another end are simply excited with the surface-level entertainment of AEW, and that is where the focus lies. And if more people decide that paying attention to Kenny Omega as champion takes precedence over the madness of Vince McMahon’s last-minute changes to Raw, we could be seeing a very different wrestling landscape in 2021 than we expect.

Jake Chambers

5. ROH
4. Pro-Wrestling NOAH
3. AEW

1. WWE – Even though NJPW is the only promotion on this list that I watched everything they produced in 2020, I’m going to go ahead and give it to WWE this year, despite the fact that I probably watched a fraction of their “main roster” weekly TV. I did tune in and appreciate stuff like the Roman Reigns heel turn, the AJ/Bryan vacant IC Title match, the Sheamus/Hardy feud and bar fight, and that stellar Morrison/Riddle Lucha Underground vs. EVOLVE dream match they gave some time on Smackdown. And I was pleasantly surprised that most of the PPVs weren’t horrible… it’s amazing what shaving 2 hours of fluff and an hour of entrances can do, huh? All that’s still not enough to make them top my beloved New Japan, so they have the NXT brands to thank for that. I still skim through all Wednesday episodes of NXT on the Network, and while this was probably their weakest year in memory there was a ton of great stuff from McAfee to the Gargano Way to Thatch as Thatch Can. But in the end, it’s all about NXT UK for me, that’s my favourite thing in wrestling for the past 2 years. It’s the cleanest, most logical, exciting, and well-wrestled weekly pro-wrestling programming, in my opinion. I love all the characters, I sit engaged through every match… and four of those matches made my personal Top 10 of the year. I can’t believe I’m about to say this about a weekly WWE wrestling show, but… NXT UK needs ANOTHER hour!

Ian Hamilton

5. ROH
4. Rev Pro
3. New Japan
2. AEW

1. wXw – This may be me being a homer, but hear me out here. wXw’s been one of the only promotions in Europe that’s been able to run any kind of a schedule during covid – and while everything marked on plan A was thrown out of the door (whatever they were doing with Cara Noir post-16 Carat Gold, plus the planned run with Alexander Wolfe seemingly working in the promotion part-time as Shotgun champ), they managed to recover and were able to release 62 shows since returning in May, telling new stories – such as the rise and fall of the Bobby Gunns/Metehan alliance, along with the promotion’s handling of intergender wrestling.

Kevin Pantoja

5. NWA
4. Impact
2. AEW

1. WWE – Honestly, this was probably the most difficult one to pick. AEW and WWE both had major flaws in 2020. WWE booked some stuff that confused me, while AEW continues to consider their women’s division unimportant. I ended up giving WWE a slight edge because they had some highs that were almost unmatched. Edge’s return, Drew McIntyre as a top star, Roman Reigns in the back half of the year, and the ladies up and down the company were stellar. This is one of those years where I could probably go either way given the day.

Jeremy Thomas

5. MLW
4. WWE
3. Impact

1. AEW – As much as I’ve loved Impact and NJPW this year, there’s one promotion that clearly lead the way for 2020 and that is AEW. All Elite Wrestling was far from perfect; I feel like their PPVs are not as compelling as their weekly shows and they’ve had some major FUBARS (*cough* Matt Hardy injury *cough*), for example. But the things they’ve done which have captured the imagination of fans pretty far outstrip their failures. They have arguably weathered the pandemic better than any company including WWE, who had to cut or furlough a ton of names and had more than a few COVID outbreaks. There’s a lot you can potentially sling at AEW, as our comment sections usually show: Tony Khan’s a money mark who needs to stop tweeting, Jericho’s out of shape, they’re pulling another TNA by picking up WWE rejects, etc. But none of that, legit or not, belies the fact that they’re producing great TV and developing stars while proving themselves an unmitigated success. 2020 was AEW’s year to step up and while they stumbled once or twice, for the most part they met the challenge.

AND 411’s TOP 5 Promotions of 2020 ARE…

5. ROH6 points

4. Impact Wrestling12 points

3. WWE25 points

2. NJPW27 points

1. AEW33 points